My reputation as a human four-leaf clover is intact: I have never seen New Zealand lose an ODI at the Cake Tin (four wins and a washout against India).
It looked shaky for a while. Few thought that New Zealand’s 241 would be enough, and if the series had not been already decided (or a review system had negated a couple of umpiring howlers), it might not have been.
Things have not gone well for the home side since I last wrote on this subject, mainly thanks to New Zealand’s deckchair batting (it collapses in a moment). The second game was close, with Daniel Vettori getting his team far nearer to victory than they deserved with a typical crease-roaming 70 from No 8. But the third and fourth were cakewalks for Australia, so when it was announced that Australia had won the toss (for the fifth time out of five, a lucky streak that might encourage Punter Ponting to increase his current investments) and put New Zealand in, I was tempted to text my son to say that I would be home around eight.
New Zealand got off to a bright start, thanks mainly to the Australian bowlers. Bollinger sprayed it about in a manner in keeping with his name, going for eight wides from his first over, and Martin Guptill put a free hit off McKay into the crowd at mid-wicket, having hit the no-ball for four. It didn’t last. Brendon McCullum charged at McKay, but was done by a change of pace and hit a tame catch to mid-off. Guptill was slow to respond to a call by Taylor and was run out by a Hopes direct hit.
I still think that McCullum was more effective as a finisher at No 7 than he has been as an opener, and would be happy to see him back there, but this seems unlikely, as he seems to be giving up the gloves and has to justify himself as a specialist. It should be noted that Australia has always reserved one of its best batsman (first Bevan, now Michael Hussey) for this role. However, McCullum seems to like being free of wicketkeeping; he romps around the field like a caged dog let loose in a wood.
Shanan Stewart came in next. I was pleased to see him make his international debut in the fourth game. He was in the New Zealand under-19 against South Africa that I covered in 2001, and I am gratified in an avuncular way when members of that team get on. He follows McCullum, Butler, Ryder, and Taylor into the international game. It was a glimpse only; he was out for six.
Vettori and Styris took New Zealand back into respectability with a bright partnership of 68 at almost a run a ball. Vettori’s dismissal looked awful: he showed Bollinger all three and was bowled off stump. But criticism is pointless. That’s the way he plays, and it is remarkably effective.
It was largely thanks to Daryl Tuffey that the total reached the point it did. Tuffey is determined to re-invent himself as a lower-order all-rounder, and is timing the ball as sweetly as anybody. However, the Australians have worked Bond out: he can’t play anything short.
At 27 without loss the course of the game looked entirely predictable, and many in the crowd will have checked the time of an earlier train. Then Bond hurried Haddin with a bouncer, which was lobbed up to square leg.
Enter Ponting. I have never seen him make a big score, and thought that this might be the day, so watched his first ball from Bond through the binoculars. It was short, Ponting turned away, it clipped his helmet and went through to wicketkeeper Hopkins. I was surprised that the fielders appealed at all, let alone with the conviction that they did. I was more surprised (but not as incredulous as the batsman) to see umpire Gary Baxter raise the finger.
No replay was shown at the stadium, an indication in itself that the umpire was being protected, so I had to wait until I got home to confirm that an appeal for caught was only fractionally more credible than one for lbw would have been. Adam Voges was done later in the innings when Asad Rauf gave him out caught behind off an attempted drive that had air between bat and ball. The case for extending the review system is overwhelming. New Zealand would probably not have bothered even to appeal for either if the possibility of conning the umpire had been eradicated.
It was the batting powerplay that finally undid Australia, just as it did New Zealand in the third game, at Hamilton, when it was taken early and resulted in collapse. The commentators are obsessed with it, and still do not understand that it is not a free token for 30 or 40 runs. An opportunity yes, but one that comes with high risk.
Here, in the first over Michael Hussey played a shot that he would not have attempted in other circumstances, and was bowled behind his legs by Southee. Two wickets fell for only 21 runs in the powerplay and all hope was gone (Hopes was gone too).
Besides the factors mentioned, New Zealand should be complimented on a fine performance with the ball and in the field. Bond and Southee both took four wickets. It was Southee’s second match-winning performance in a couple of weeks, following his effort in the T20 at Christchurch, a remarkable effort for one so young. Of course, he had a couple of poor games in between, but the public and media must exercise patience, for he is our only really convincing bowling prospect at the moment.
Three-two was a fair result, and though New Zealand lost, it was with honour reasonably intact. Only the brightest optimist on this side of the Tasman expects that to be the case in the two-test series, which starts here in Wellington on Friday.